Cerebral neurogenic vasodilation is mediated predominantly by nitric oxide (NO). Thus, NO was suggested to be a vasodilator transmitter. In the present study, the possibility that cerebral perivascular nerves can convert citrulline to arginine was examined to ascertain that NO is derived directly from these perivascular nerves. To investigate the uptake of citrulline and its conversion to arginine, both fresh and cold storage-denervated porcine cerebral arteries with or without endothelial cells were incubated at 37 degrees C for 2 hr in Krebs-Ringer bicarbonate buffer containing 0.5 mM purified [14C]ureido-citrulline. The formation of [14C]arginine was measured as 14CO2 by a coupled enzymatic assay involving arginase and urease. The abolishment of nitric oxidergic nerves was verified by NADPH-diaphorase (constitutive NO synthases) histochemical staining method. The results indicated that there was an active conversion of [14C]arginine from [14C]citrulline in nerve-intact arteries denuded of endothelial cells. The conversion was significantly decreased in denervated arteries, accompanied by a significantly reduced citrulline uptake into these denervated arteries. L-Glutamine, but not L-glutamate, gamma-aminobutyric acid, or nitro-L-arginine significantly inhibited the uptake of [14C]citrulline into cerebral perivascular nerves. These data suggest that porcine cerebral vasodilator nerves are nitric oxidergic in nature and citrulline, co-produced with NO by NO synthases from arginine, can be recycled to form arginine in these nerves. The existence of a functional arginine-citrulline cycle may contribute to a constant supply of L-arginine and suggests a neuronal source of NO for inducing cerebral vasodilation.